Friday, May 25, 2012

Enjoy! But, be well!

On the radio this morning they gave away "brat bucks."  Twenty dollars worth of brats which I guess is 10 brats for the annual brat festival.  The DJ said that last year someone at the station ate 30 brats over the festival's 4 days and suggested the winner of the bucks try to beat that number.  It's also a tradition for folks to stop in to the festival right about now and pick up brats for breakfast.

While I will never begrudge a local tradition of fun and community, we really don't need to over-do an annual event.  A brat here and there is perfectly fine.  What's on the menu for your Memorial Day weekend?  Is it bar-b-q?  Potato salad?  It's true that we turn to traditions for the holidays and we should.  Food is not just about nutrition, it is also about emotion and bringing people together.

Just don't over do it.  A holiday, a festival, a family gathering are all good reasons to indulge in foods that wouldn't be part of your normal diet.  Who eats brats for breakfast normally?  Good ahead, do it!  Enjoy it! Be part of the annual workplace tradition.  Once you have the brat for breakfast, however, are you also going back for supper?  And another tomorrow when you return to the festival?  This is the problem.

A special meal is a special meal.  It's no longer special when it gets over-done.  When we over indulge, we take something away for the food's special-ness.  To enjoy something is not to eat or drink until one is sick (and I don't just mean in the moment, but in the long term- heart disease, etc. kind of sick as well).  Unfortunately, we have this mentality in our culture that over-indulgence is celebration, is enjoyment, is being part of something American. How about enjoyment being able to taste and smell and experience the food or drink?  Not like a wine connoisseur, but someone present and mindful of what's going in the body?

If you are eating or drinking to enjoy, please do!  But please, don't over do it.  It's time our culture changes it's version of enjoying food and drink - smaller portions that allow us to taste, enjoy, and walk away healthy and well.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Compost Away!

I really dislike paying for dirt or for compost, but it happens.  The reason I don't want to buy the dirt is that I can make my own in the backyard!  Composting doesn't take a lot of space, but it does take some attention.  If you plan to be a gardener or already are, then compost is most likely a part of the garden plan.  Adding compost, creates a nutrient rich soil. 

There are different kinds of compost.  Manure can be composted.  You might find bags of mushroom compost, cow manure compost, horse manure compost, and some cities offer compost (made from the yard waste and other brush and leaf collections).  In Madison, the city is experimenting with a food waste compost program.  All offer different nutrient levels, but I am not getting into that science lesson.

I like composting not just to save buying soil, but to have a place to put my food waste.  It is really unnecessary to fill our landfills with food waste (where nothing good can come of it), if it can so easily be turned into something useful.  My garbage doesn't stink or get messy. I am putting less plastic to waste in not filling the garbage so often and in not buying huge plastic bags of soil and compost!

You can check with the city to see if yours has compost bins for sale as Madison does.  They also might sell small buckets that you can collect the food waste in and then empty outside in your bin.  Do this often or you'll end up with fruit flies.  Many other sources for buying and methods for building your own bin are out there as well.  There are many opinions and ideas on what works best.  I honestly don't know who is right on that question.  What works best is the one you tend most often. 

Choose a spot for composting that is somewhat sheltered and somewhat sunny.  Make layers to get things going.  Layer in garden clippings, leaves, kitchen waste, and even things like wood ash.  Keep things moist.  If it dries up, then the microbes won't survive that start the process and soon all the good bugs and worms needed to break things down will be gone. 

Keeping things moist is the tending.  But, you need to stir it up as well.  This is where I often fall short.  I don't stir things up and get the layers working together.  I now have 2 piles, so I can just shovel out of one and into the other, water, and let it do it's work!

What can be put in the compost heap?  Any vegetable and food waste from the kitchen.  Chop it up for best results.  Grass clippings from the yard as well.  Leaves work best if you can chop them up.  They will take longer if put in whole.  I am currently having fun with a list I found that had many items I was not aware were compostable.  Paper towels, tissue, dryer lint, dust bunnies, cat hair (go to squido for more).  It's good to keep in mind that there should be a 3:1 ratio of brown (carbon) ingredients to green (nitrogen).  Brown is often the kind of stuff that I think of as related to trees and wood (leaves, paper products) and green is vegetable and fruit scraps, in general.  Have fun experimenting with what all can go in there!

Don't put meat or feces or even some weeds in there.  It's often too difficult to fully compost and the meat and feces attract unwanted guests, plus can lead to disease.  My neighbors had a ton of tomatoes in their compost one year and because the pile did not get hot enough to decompose the tomato seeds, the garden was full of tiny, unwanted tomato plants.  I avoid putting tomato plants from the garden or leaves in there as well, because there might be a fungus lingering on the leaves or stems.

Even if you never get around to really using your compost in your garden, you will be eliminating waste and it's a fun science experiment!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Waste Not Want Not

A big pet peeve of mine is food waste. We are a nation, a culture of waste in many ways, but there is no need for us to waste food as we do. We waste a lot of things, but this is one area where you, as the consumer, can get you and your household down to zero food waste. The first step is good planning. When are you cooking and what do you plan to make? Then, make the list and while at the store follow the list. Make a list of what you plan to make and place it on the fridge. Or, do like a I do and hang the recipes with a magnetic chip clip on the fridge. Then, when I do get to cooking, they are handy and easy for me to read and follow. Now, I know why that package of feta and bunch of parsley are in the fridge, the recipe is hanging right there! We also waste a lot by not eating parts of the food. We don't eat the ends of the loaf, the stems of the broccoli, the leaf of the lettuce. For some of this, I keep a bag in the freezer that can then be thrown into a pot to make a soup stock some day. The stems and the scraps have lots of flavor and nutrients, just not a lot of texture. I cook them up in a strainer in the pot and pull it out, composting the non-liquids. Also, make a smoothie with it! If I have a bunch of spinach stems or stems from an herb, these will add vitamins and nutrients, but no flavor to my smoothie. Try getting inventive. The stems of broccoli can be peeled easily and are delicious raw with some dip or hummus. Check the internet, there are blogs out there on how not to waste any part of the food. Next, is the leftovers. I love leftovers. I eat the same food all week with no problems. Lots of folks aren't so inclined. There are a couple of ways to deal with this. You can get inventive and re-use things in another way. For example, make chili. Then, eat the chili the next day with a bag of healthy blue tortilla chips. Also, plan to put the chili on a baked potato with some shredded cheese one night. Change the spices a little with some oregano and top off a salad and some salsa, making a taco salad. Or, take the leftovers and put them in the freezer. Keep a list of what's in there and in a month, you might find you are ready to thaw that chili and have for dinner! Remember to give it a full 24 hours to thaw in the fridge or you'll be frustrated with the long, slow cooking time. Freezing is a good way to keep waste to a minimum. Sometimes even with good planning, things get left in the fridge for too long. If this is the case, after 3-4 days, depending on the ingredient, give up and set a new date to cook. Take the 5-10 minutes needed to freeze the food for future use. A lot of foods will hold nutrient values best if you boil or steam them for just 1-2 minutes before freezing. Many, such as peppers do not. I usually do not even bother with thawing. Many vegetables are easy to slice while still frozen. Others, will need that time to thaw. However, if I am going to sauté or cook in a soup, I just throw it in and plan on some extra cooking time. Of course, you can always share! Give the food away or make a container for a neighbor's dinner! There are also groups out there that get organized, so each member makes one dish and then there's an exchange and depending on the number of members, you have some variety for the week. The last resort of no food waste, is compost. If you just can't keep it edible, it is always able to rot. Of course, I am only talking about vegetable and fruit waste and egg shells. No meat products in the compost or you'll have all manner of critters unwanted, hanging out for dinner on your compost heap. Whether or not you garden, composting is a good way to keep the food out of the already too large mountains of garbage in our communities. Any other ideas on how to minimize food waste?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say.....

How you speak to yourself really does affect your mental health and if it's affecting your mental health, it's affecting your physical health.  A recent study found that speaking negatively about your body is directly related to having symptoms of depression, poor body image (duh!), and feelings of pressure to fit into an ideal image of appearance.  If you want to lose weight, saying, "geez, my butt is big!" or "I can't lose weight!" is definitely NOT helping you get any closer to your goals.  Both men and women have greater depression symptoms when they are speaking negatively about their own appearance. 

Makes sense when I say it as a research study, doesn't it?  So, why do we keep doing it, when it so clearly makes no sense?  Why do we look in the mirror and say you're so ugly, so fat, so whatever and hope that will motivate us to lose weight, exercise, or make changes?  Encouragement, affirmation, and hope cause change.  I know I am starting to sound like Al Franken as Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live.  I used to have this same attitude toward the positive psychology movement - it seems ridiculous. 

But now, I know differently.  Neuroscience is proving that we can affect the brain's wiring by how we think.  If we affect the wiring, we affect the brain's reactions - i.e. the hormones/neuro-transmitters released to send messages to the body.  These are what we feel.  If you feel happy, you have a happy cocktail of these chemicals flooding your body.  If you feel depressed, you have some other combination of chemicals.  Not only do the chemicals make you feel a certain way, they affect the way the body functions.  The immune system reacts, the blood vessels may open or narrow, digestion may slow, blood pressure may change, etc. 

What this means is every time you think a negative thought about yourself, your brain releases the cocktail of chemicals that make you feel like crud.  Every time you think a positive statement, you go in the other direction.  Just like Stuart Smalley found week after week on SNL, however, saying the statement and believing it are 2 different things.  If you look in the mirror and tell yourself you are wonderful, but a little voice behind that one says, "yeah right!" in a sarcastic tone, you obviously have a negative voice that is very strong and very well wired.  It's going to take effort and time to undo that voice, but it is absolutely possible and necessary.  Sometimes those negative voices sound like someone and for good reason - that certain someone said these things to you often.  All of that takes some work to undo.  Don't give up!

The thoughts we spend the most time on are the thoughts that have the most connections and ease in the brain's functioning.  That's why practice makes perfect!  If you have to undo years of negative self-talk, it'll take time (NOT years, I promise) and lots of practice.  Patience and commitment to self are all you need!  Start by simply stopping yourself from negative talk.  When you begin a statement, stop and tell yourself, "I am NOT doing this to myself right now!"  Then, begin to challenge the statements with positive statements.  Keep going from there, the sky is the limit!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Empower Yourself! Try Screen-free/Reduction This Week!

A FaceBook comment recently made me aware of the irony of writing about Screen-Free week on a screen!  Should have thought of it earlier, but it does make me smile!  Obviously, I am not screen-free, but I have made a personal commitment to being screen-free this week.  No personal FaceBook time.  No games on the iPad.  No movies.  No online TV.  Just email and business screen time.

Screen-Free Week is April 30th-May 6th, so if you've missed a few days, why not start now?  Of course, finish reading first!  Screen-Free began as TV-Free and now, of course, with the additional media we are exposed to, the need to expand is obvious.  Screens equate to TV, video games, computers and hand held devices.  It can't hurt to experiment with giving up some screen time, right?  You might learn something, engage in something, finish something you would not have otherwise had time for.

The initial impetus was to give us a break from marketing.  I gave up my TV almost a year ago and despite my access to online shows and information, my exposure to commercials is way down.  I don't know if there is an effect I can specifically pinpoint, but I am surely less affected by and aware of trends, fads, and useless products, not to mention ridiculous political media (from ALL parties).  I have had to make huge adjustments and decisions, some of which I have not yet made, as to where I get my information, what information I actually want, and who I trust.

This is really powerful.  I choose what my brain is exposed to.  Big deal?  It is!  This may seem like I am going off the deep end into paranoid territory, but it is absolute fact that the advertisers and marketers in this country have long used whatever they can to understand how to make us want what they are selling. And now, they have started to utilize the new burgeoning field of neuroscience, and not for the greater good.  In the past they just put a bunch of folks in a room, shared samples of the product or the advertisement and asked for reactions.  Now, they are using the science of the brain to really understand what lights up and what doesn't in the brain, according to media stimuli.  Then, what that equates to as far as purchasing power comes next.  If part of the brain lights up when exposed to this ad, does it mean you will buy?  They are deeply investing in this science.

We think, in this country, that we have this free will thing going on and aren't being manipulated by such external forces.  Hate to break it to you, but we are neurologically set up to pay very close attention to certain things such as social rules, sensory input, certain emotions, and more.  We CAN'T ignore these things and we often do not know that our brains are paying attention and making connections and many, many times making unconscious decisions, especially regarding preferences.  Our children are even more at risk.  How is it that millions of children every year want the same toy for holidays and birthdays?  I won't even call this media influence.  This is very direct manipulation and it runs our economic system. 

I don't want to get into the politics and values of our economic system, but I do want to encourage you to explore these issues.  Find out what you are allowing yourself, your children, your friends and others to be exposed to consciously, what are you buying into or literally buying without much thought to how you were influenced in that direction?

You probably thought this blog was going to be about the effects of the screen on your eyes, the exposure to electro-magnetic fields in the devices we are close to, maybe even the effects of all these screens going into landfills.  Yup, please pay attention to the research that is continually coming out on these topics, because they are very real.  Try sources that are less mainstream, because it seems to take longer for information to be big enough or extreme enough for big media to pick it up. By the time we see it, it is often simplified and blown out of proportion. Find sources you trust, specialized sources that are constantly looking for information on the issues, and local sources that seem to have your best interests at heart.  Not easy to do, but empowering!

How will you reduce screen time this week?